By Doug Bean, Catholic Times Editor

As the Diocese of Columbus launches its Real Presence, Real Future initiative this week, Bishop Robert Brennan emphasized the importance for the faithful to pray and become informed.

“Let’s ask the Lord to be with us to send the Holy Spirit upon us and to work through us as we listen deeply to each other,” the bishop told Father Adam Streitenberger, diocesan coordinator for evangelization, during a taping of his “Conversations on Discipleship” program for St. Gabriel Radio.

Real Presence, Real Future, which was unveiled at all parishes Feb. 27-28, entails a strategic planning process spanning the next two years to help support the future needs of the diocese.

“Real Presence, Real Future brings our hearts and minds to the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist,” Bishop Brennan said. “It’s very important for us, the current generation, to take a look at the needs of the Church in the 21st century but also the world and certainly our society here in Ohio.”

The bishop stressed that it’s important to adapt to changing times because the world needs the Church.

“Real Presence, Real Future is about our desire to have the Catholic presence – strong, vibrant, joyful, faithful – proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and living it boldly and creatively so that we can share the Joy of the Gospel and the Splendor of Truth with the world, but also so that even in our own living out of the faith it can help us to get into a deeper relationship with the Lord,” he said.

“We’re looking ahead with great hope and great confidence because we know the promise of the Lord in Matthew 28: I am with you always, even until the end of time. But looking ahead is really about knowing that we’re walking with Jesus.”

When the Columbus Diocese was founded in the 1860s, downtown churches were built within walking distance. Since then, the demographics of the 23-county diocese have changed dramatically as transportation and communication evolved.1

“I often say that we live in a diocese that was founded on an 1868 model, built for the needs of 1868,” Bishop Brennan said. “We have to be able to use and harness some of the new resources … in a way that helps us to meet the needs to proclaim the Gospel.”

The planning process for Real Presence, Real Future began more than a year ago. Preliminary work included evaluation of statistics and projections on church attendance, school enrollment, evangelization efforts, vocations, priest staffing and diocesan and parish personnel. 

“Now we’re at a point where we need to have this conversation about who we are, what are our core values, what are our hopes, what are the needs, identify the needs of the Church in the 21st century,” Bishop Brennan said.

The Catholic Leadership Institute, a nonprofit strategic planning group, is facilitating the diocese’s efforts to advance its mission to evangelize and use its resources effectively, including sustaining a growing Hispanic outreach.

“Our pastors have been meeting over the course of the last year, and we’re forming different layers of a leadership team,” Bishop Brennan said. “We’re looking at diocesan offices, what are the structures that we need and what works, what needs to change, not because of any judgment on people but what structures do we need in this new millennium, how do we best serve the needs of the parishes in the proclamation of the faith.

“The same is true in terms of how do we deploy priest personnel. We try to do the best that we can to meet needs as they arise. But we know that we will have fewer priests just by the numbers and by the numbers of men in formation. I’m hoping to see all that grow, but we can make some realistic predictions.

“Our Church, we’re not museums. Our Church is a living reality. Our Church is a living organism,” he said. “How do we structure ourselves so that we can have strong, vibrant communities and worship together and make Masses available for people at times that are convenient by working together rather than everybody duplicating what the parish next door is doing. So it’s going to take a little bit of creativity on all of our parts.”

Bishop Brennan, who arrived in Columbus in March 2019 after serving as an auxiliary bishop in Rockville Centre, New York, envisions a Church “on mission,” that’s “on the move,” “reaching out to people seeking those who are lost, seeking those who are in need, sharing the Joy of the Gospel and the Splendor of Truth.

“Before you can be on mission, you need to be a disciple,” he said. “That’s one of our key personal goals for each of us is to grow in discipleship, to sit at the feet of the Lord, to know Him well … be so on fire with that encounter with Jesus that we’re sharing His joy everywhere.”

In the coming months as Real Presence, Real Future begins to unfold, regional and parish leaders will gather to discuss avenues to share resources. Individuals also can contribute to the conversation.

“There’s a leadership team that I need to rely on – people who can do a lot of the heavy lifting work,  because it is a lot of work,” Bishop Brennan said. “We then have a commission of about 40 people representing many different regions and representatives of different populations within the diocese in each parish.

“We’re asking for about five parish leaders to keep this work going and to keep people informed, but also then to help us when we get to the point of having regional meetings and parish meetings. This is going to take time, so I have to ask patience. We need to identify who we are and what we believe and how we want to live out our Catholic faith.”

The bishop stressed that Real Presence, Real Future is “not about coming up with something and saying, ‘Here it is.’ It’s more about facilitating these discussions. There’s going to be a lot of talking and a lot of listening. And I appreciate that people are so good here in the diocese and generous in sharing their hopes and their dreams.”

Especially during Lent, Bishop Brennan encourages participation in the diocese’s 40 Days of Adoration at one of more than 50 participating parishes to pray for the success of Real Presence, Real Future. A prayer for the initiative will be made available.

“I’m asking you: Would you please make (the prayer) your own?” he said. “Let’s pray for the Church and ask the Lord to lead us and to reveal His will for us in the way that we can be missionary disciples on a practical level.”

To learn more about Real Presence, Real Future and to sign up for updates, visit the realpresencerealfuture.org website.

The Bishop also requests that all Catholics participate in a Disciple Maker Index survey, which is accessible until March 22 at https://www.catholicleaders.org/columbusdmi. To date, there has been an overwhelming response from the faithful. 

“The questions help us to reflect on where am I in my relationship with the Lord, in my practice of the faith, in my relationship with the Church,” Bishop Brennan said. “Out of that, we’ll be able to form something of a portrait of who we are as a Church (and), as I mentioned before, knowing the needs of the Church in the 21st century.”